It quickly became apparent that there were several different routes which hopeful prospectors could take to the diggings and each had its own claim to being "the main route from Geelong to Ballarat" (or Buninyong for the current purpose as all roads from Geelong passed through or near that town). The shortest route was certainly the bullock track which lead from Geelong to Buninyong. It was well established by the 1840s and had been used by the mail coaches to travel between Geelong and Buninyong since 1846. If volume of newspaper content is anything to go by, this was certainly the busiest route to the goldfields and the topic of my most recent posts.
Teesdale of course, is not on this route. It was however on the road taken by another of the earliest mail coaches in the district - the Portland Bay Mail Coach. The mail from Geelong (and from Melbourne via the steamer) was carried by coach through Leigh Road (Bannockburn), Teesdale, The Leigh (Shelford), Rokewood and onwards to join the Melbourne to Portland Bay mail at Fiery Creek (Streatham/Beaufort). An 1856 survey map of the Teesdale area describes this road as the "main road from Fiery Creek to Geelong via Batesford".
|Shelford iron bridge under construction 1873-4. The timber pylons of the original|
bridge are visible between those of the new bridge
After crossing the Leigh, those travelling to Buninyong needed to branch off the Portland Bay road and head north. First however, they could take a meal or stay overnight at the Settlers' Arms Inn, before following the track which lead to Mt Mercer and on to Buninyong. The inn was built in 1843 by Captain Francis Ormond who leased the surrounding land from George Russell of the Clyde Company, agreeing to improve the area and build the inn which soon prospered as a result of the passing trade.
|A dirt track leading into Shelford, taken during the late 19th century. Image held|
by the State Library of Victoria
Another consideration is the term "main gold route". Does this mean the route taken by the diggers to get to the goldfields or the route taken by the gold escorts bringing the gold back to Geelong? Newspaper reports show that the the contractors carrying gold to Geelong travelled via the Geelong to Buninyong Road. It was for this reason that a police paddock and associated buildings were established at Meredith in 1853 (and a little later also at Burnt Bridge), to provide a base for the police officers accompanying the gold; a staging post for changing horses.
|This early photograph taken c1852-1854 shows the Ballarat gold escort. Image|
held by the State Library of Victoria
It may have been longer, however travellers would go a significant distance out of their way to avoid bad roads, even taking to the bush when necessary.
It is also worth noting that the Geelong to Buninyong Road and the road via Mt Mercer did not exist in isolation from one another. They were connected by tracks (and later roads) which ran east-west between them. As I mentioned in an earlier post about the Green Tent, there was a track running from that place back to Shelford which was used by bullockies and those wanting to graze their stock, as well as the track which became the Meredith-Shelford Rd. If conditions were proving too difficult on one road, it was possible to veer off and head for the other.
And it is at this point that another local tale surfaces. Whilst on a visit to 'Narmbool' (the squatting property established in 1839 by Hugh Niven, now owned by Sovereign Hill), I was told that an old track leading down across Williamson's Creek was "used by the diggers during the gold rush". This would seem to be confirmed by a road marked on an 1892 geological survey map, running in a direct line between Horsehill Rd and Williamson's Creek along the fence line we were shown. After crossing the creek, survey maps of Clarendon Parish from 1915 show the road - presumably following the earlier track - continuing on to a fork. One branch ran north, following what today is a vague track which becomes Pryor's Rd, the other travelled only a short distance south west to Sand Rd. Both Sand and Pryor's Roads meet up again to the east of the mining town of Garibaldi before joining the Buninyong-Mt Mercer Rd. Thus the diggers could follow this road north to Buninyong or they could again join the Geelong to Buninyong Rd to the east of Scotsburn, or possibly further west, thus avoiding Scott's Swamp.
|Local sources say that, a track used by diggers heading to the goldfields|
(presumably from' the Geelong to Buninyong Rd) ran down the hill at the fence
line to cross Williamson's Creek at this point
Looking at the survey maps available from the 1850s for the parish of Enfield, the old track by and large, followed the same course as the modern road, although where the modern road veers to the west to meet the road from Dereel, the old track stayed close to the river past Mt Mercer. Further north near Garibaldi, the track again followed a slightly different course, crossing the Yarrowee River about 700m north west of the present crossing which was not built until 1866. As I described in an earlier post, the river crossing at Garibaldi was dangerous, with three people said to have lost their lives during flooding prior to the erection of the bridge downstream.
|Google Earth image showing: modern roads (yellow), Buninyong-Mt Mercer|
Track (green), unused road on 'Narmbool' (blue), other pre-survey tracks (red).
Click to enlarge
It is also worth remembering that there may well have been other informal crossing points along the Leigh/Yarrowee which also gave access for those heading to the goldfields. I know of at least one bridge which no longer exists, but which was used by workers crossing to 'Golfhill'. Located at the end of Henderson's Rd, Bamganie, it was a timber swing bridge which existed into the 20th century, however I am unsure of its age. Similarly, there is a small bridge on Kelly's Rd, Grenville where the Leigh can be crossed, however the road itself does not appear on the earliest survey maps.
No doubt there were other crossing points and tracks along the way, all of which could have been used by those travelling to and from the goldfields to reach the road between Buninyong and Shelford.
If at any point I find more detail I will update this post accordingly.